Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index

watch listen BBC Sport BBC Sport
Low graphics|Help
Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 14:02 GMT
The challenges that face Fabio Capello

By Jonathan Stevenson

England manager Fabio Capello
Capello's final job in management might just be his most difficult

On Wednesday, English football begins arguably its most important era since the days of Sir Alf Ramsey.

Just as Ramsey redefined the way England played the game in the 1960s, so Fabio Capello must enforce a sea-change in how his new team approaches international football.

For England, still reeling from its failure to qualify for Euro 2008, the Wembley friendly against Switzerland marks the start of the Italian's tenure as national team manager.

BBC Sport examines the challenges facing Capello as he begins the quest to lead his adopted country to World Cup glory in 2010.


England, it seems, are not very good at reading scripts. The golden generation of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney were supposed to win the 2006 World Cup.

Only 16 months after exiting at the quarter-final stage in Germany, the same group of players spectacularly failed to qualify for a tournament showcasing the talents of the 16 best teams in Europe.

Steven Gerrard lifts the European Cup in 2005
Can Capello help Gerrard reproduce his Liverpool form for England?

So how will Capello go about making sure the likes of Gerrard and Frank Lampard produce the same level of performance as they do in the Premier League and Champions League?

Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University management school, believes the fact that Capello is new to most of the players will immediately work in his favour.

"I think it will be good for the group for someone from outside to come in and look at them and dispassionately say 'this is how things should work'", Cooper told BBC Sport.

"They will respect him because of his brilliant track record and because he is a class act and he will certainly upset things, but there is nothing wrong with that because the nature of the game is competition.

"If any of the players cannot cope with changes and a new approach, maybe they should not be there at all.

"Being from outside he has no axe to grind, he has no history, he is coming in with entirely a fresh perspective."


Capello has been spared his first major decision with the fact that Spurs keeper Paul Robinson has not even been playing for his club and also that Frank Lampard has been ruled out with injury.

The somewhat tiresome 'can Lampard and Gerrard play together?' debate is unlikely to continue under the Italian, however.

As the man who almost invented the defensive midfield position by playing Marcel Desailly there for AC Milan, he is likely to favour an Owen Hargreaves-type player to protect the back four.


It might be a cliche to suggest England teams are too gung-ho, with a 'let's race out of the blocks and get stuck into them'. But the simple facts do much to endorse the myth.

Since Euro 1996, in five tournaments under three managers, England have scored 34 goals. Of those 34 goals, 22 have been scored in the first half, with just 12 in 21 attempts at scoring after the break.

Capello is regarded as better than Mourinho, Ferguson and Lippi - he is the best

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic

Contrast that with Capello's home country Italy over the same five tournaments. Sixteen goals before the interval, 19 after - they've only scored once more than England in total, but after reaching the final of Euro 2000 and winning the 2006 World Cup, you might say they know how to score when it matters.

England must rid themselves of their Premier League fast-and-furious mentality when they play international football.

Or rather, Capello must rid them of it. The players must learn when to press and when to stay, not to go flying out of the blocks and, critically, when and how to kill a game off.

Dead time - when you do not play at 100 miles per hour - in international football is key and Capello will impress upon his players from the start that their ball retention - that old chestnut - must be improved.

Fabio Capello (left) and Slaven Bilic
Capello and Bilic will go head-to-head in World Cup 2010 qualifying

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic, who led his side to home and away wins over England in Euro 2008 qualifying, believes Capello is simply the best coach in the world.

"In Croatia, if someone comes and sits at your table and after 20 minutes he is telling you all the systems and the tactics, then we will say, 'Who do you think you are, Capello?'" Bilic told The Times newspaper.

"Not Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson or Marcello Lippi - Capello is regarded as better than all of them. He is a great coach, absolutely the best."

Capello's influence already appears to have rubbed off on Gerrard after only one training session.

"We've got to try to become very difficult to beat again," said the Liverpool captain, with a clear grasp of his new gaffer's philosophy.


When it comes to a major tournament, England always seem to fall short. So much so that the three lions badge should sit next to the words 'heroic failure' in the dictionary.

So if Capello manages to lead England to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, how can he make sure his team does not settle for a 'brave' quarter-final exit (probably on penalties)?

Capello may not bring with him the experience of being at a major tournament, but he has been at the helm for enough big games in his glittering coaching career to know what it takes to succeed when the pressure is on.

His methodical and practical approach to management, along with making sure that his team gives nothing away at the back, will ensure that England are adequately prepared for the task ahead.

Bill Beswick (left) with Steve McClaren
McClaren was mocked for using psychologist Bill Beswick (left)

And as well as being a confirmed admirer of the 4-4-2 formation, Capello - unlike Sven-Goran Eriksson - is happy to switch formations as he sees fit during a game instead of stubbornly sticking to his beliefs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Cooper believes that Capello should continue Steve McClaren's much-derided use of a psychologist - especially when England reach a major tournament.

"A national team should have a full-time sports psychologist working with them," he added.

"A lot of what the players experience, the resilient element, can be helped and nurtured by having someone there with them all the time. It's like a fitness coach - you wouldn't think of not having one of them there.

"You have to have someone who can help the coach think through various psychological strategies to help players who might be blocked and are not performing at their maximum capacity.

"Unless we do that then we will never punch our weight. The nature of the competition at that level requires it."


England, we are often told, have the most loyal football fans in the world following their every move.

The country also has a national media that expects nothing less than 100% success and more often than not ensures someone pays the price for failure.

Capello is unlikely to be intimidated or influenced by either beast, but he will not be so naive as to simply dismiss them both out of hand - instead the wily Italian will use them to his advantage.

One inhibitor is the level of expectation. It puts an absurd amount of pressure on the players

Professor Cary Cooper

For the fans and the media's part, Cooper says the suffocating weight of expectation placed on England players might be one reason why they consistently fail to deliver.

"The expectation from the fans and from the whole country is too high. They are expected to be the best in the world all the time and although that is laudable, it is simply not possible," said Cooper.

"One inhibitor for the team is the level of expectation. It only occasionally matches where you are as a team, but more often that not it puts an absurd amount of pressure on the players."

In the same way that the players will gladly suffer Capello's iron fist if he turns them into winners, so the fans and the media will warm to the man if he brings the same level of success to England as he did to AC Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus.


Like Bilic, Football Association director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking is only too aware that in Capello, his employers have a man with a fantastic knowledge of the art of coaching.

The FA must ensure that when Capello walks away from the job, every little bit of his vast footballing expertise has been fed into the English coaching system.

Fabio Capello (left) shares a joke with Sir Trevor Brooking
The relationship between Capello and Brooking will be crucial

"We have to look at what we are going to do in the future and how we are going to change it," said Brooking in December.

"We need to create our own vision and get ourselves into a position where we have better English players and better English coaches and have that recognised outside this country.

"We have to use Fabio's massive knowledge of a variety of different countries and structures. If we can't suck that out of him, we want pillorying."

Pillorying indeed. Even at this early stage, it is difficult to come up with a reasonable English candidate for who should take over when Capello's tenure ends.

But the most crucial role for Brooking and the rest of the FA over the next four-and-a-half years is to put in place a structure that will aid the development of young managers and coaches in this country.

That means the building of a National Football Centre in Burton, a place where Capello's coaching ideas can be passed on to the next generation of Englishmen.

Both short and long-term, Capello can do much to give English football a shot in the arm. Wednesday is just the beginning.

Capello demands winning mentality
04 Feb 08 |  Internationals
Defoe called up to England squad
03 Feb 08 |  Internationals
Capello keeps Agbonlahor in squad
02 Feb 08 |  Internationals
Beckham left out of England squad
31 Jan 08 |  Internationals
Beckham cast out again by England
31 Jan 08 |  Internationals
Beckham's England career in photos
29 Jan 08 |  Football
Pick your England XI
31 Aug 07 |  Internationals
O'Neill pride at England call-ups
31 Jan 08 |  Internationals
FA boss expresses England fears
31 Jan 08 |  Internationals
Capello gives Pearce coaching job
30 Jan 08 |  Internationals
How Capello's England will look
17 Dec 07 |  Internationals
England lack confidence - Capello
17 Dec 07 |  Internationals
Capello's backroom boys
14 Dec 07 |  Internationals
Capello 'to get best out of team'
16 Dec 07 |  Internationals


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Daily and weekly e-mails | Mobiles | Desktop Tools | News Feeds | Interactive Television | Downloads
Sport Homepage | Football | Cricket | Rugby Union | Rugby League | Tennis | Golf | Motorsport | Boxing | Athletics | Snooker | Horse Racing | Cycling | Disability Sport | Olympics 2012 | Other Sport...

Video and Audio | Scores & Fixtures | Have Your Say | TV/Radio Schedule

Fun and Games | Question of Sport | Photo Galleries

Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales

Help | Privacy & Cookies Policy | News sources | About the BBC | Contact us | Advertise with us